Should age difference matter in a relationship?
Romantic couples with a large age gap, such as that of 10 years or more, often attract social disapproval. However, research shows that even if the favoured age gap is much lower, both men and women are actually open to dating or marrying someone who's 10-15 years older or younger to them.
It is understandable why people usually prefer similar age groups for romantic relationships. They have common friend circles, and usually meet people through them. Similar age groups translate into comparable interests, values, stages of life and priorities. Age is also a marker for physical appearance, which plays a role in defining the attraction factor in a relationship.
However, while there are variations between the desired size of age gaps across cultures, the concept of there being one is prevalent in almost all cultures around the world. In continents such as Asia and Africa, for instance, couples boast about a 30 per cent higher age variation compared to Western countries. As such, the question that begs asking is — does age really matter for the long-term success of a relationship?
Experts from around the world have diverse views to offer. Dr Md Zillur Rahman Khan, Associate Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, opines that while the ultimate success of relationships depends on the couple's ability and commitment to stick it through the rough patches, there is an optimum age gap, beyond which certain problems can arise. "Couples that have an age gap beyond 5-7 years come to us with more compatibility issues than those within that age gap," he shares.
His statement is rooted in deep logic, stating, "Couples who are just a few years apart in age are usually on the same maturity spectrum. They look at life the same way, and share similar life goals. On the contrary, a 20-year-old may have different experiences, and see life in a different way from, say, a 35-year-old."
Other relationship experts such as Dr Gery Karantzas, a professor from the School of Psychology, Deakin University, Melbourne echo a similar view. "We give priority to the mastery of different tasks during distinct stages of our lives," stresses Gery. Therefore, when one member of a couple prioritises a life goal that does not resonate with the other, differences can arise.
As socio-cultural norms evolve, however, the biggest argument for an older-man, younger-woman seems to be waning. Traditionally, it was understood that men were attuned to looking for vitality and child bearing abilities in a woman at their most genetic, instinctual level, and women, for a safety net for herself and her children in a man. Interestingly, earning women no longer need men as their safety nets as much, and men who do not wish for children have increasingly begun to gravitate towards older women. Age gaps, therefore, have largely become a matter of choice.
"No two couples are alike," clarifies Dr Khan. "There are those who are committed to making wider age gaps work. If the couple has taken the time to understand each other's' priorities and has a healthy respect for them, they usually survive."
It is also worth mentioning that couples that do stick it out in the initial years usually start to attach less and less meaning to the age difference between them. Karantzas shares that a 20 and 30-year-old may be on vastly different wavelengths but the same couple, 30 years later, as a 50 and a 60-year-old, not so much.
The success of a relationship, therefore, does not rest as much on the age of the couple anymore, as it does on their shared value systems, beliefs and common goals. If they are able to show support for each other in times that matter, and display commitment and maturity in resolving conflicts, age is just a number.